“The spirit which marked our beginnings.”
The Religious of the Assumption were founded in Paris in 1839 by Anne Eugenie Milleret, who in religious life was to take the new name of Marie Eugenie of Jesus.
Fr. Theodore Combalot, a well-known preacher of the time had the inspiration to found a new congregation, inspired by the mystery of the Assumption of Our Lady. He saw it working for the regeneration of society through the education of girls and women.
When Anne Eugenie came to confession to him in 1837 at the Church of St. Eustache, he recognised, in this nineteen year old who desired to dedicate her life to God, a person with the capacity and character to be the foundress of this congregation.
The beginnings were very poor. In 1839, four young girls came together in a small apartment in Rue Ferou, Paris.
Their life followed a rhythm of prayer and silence, study and housework. Marie Eugenie recalled what she called, “the spirit which marked our beginnings.. there was an openheartedness, a simple kindliness among us.” It was the beginning of what came to be called the “family spirit” of the Congregation and it is still today considered a hallmark of the Assumption.
Everyday Fr.Combalot came to give talks and to oversee the studies. In the Advent of that year he introduced them to the Divine Office of the Church, which has been a treasured part of the Congregation’s spirituality ever since.
In 1841, Combalot who had always been eccentric and unpredictable, left them on their own. At this difficult moment, the decision of the sisters stick together, realising that they already had an identity as a community and a vision which they all shared, was crucial.
Slowly their numbers grew and they became accepted by the Church authorities.
In 1842, they opened a little school and word went around Paris that it was good.
The Mission had begun.
“fire, passion and ardent love”
The story of the Congregation is the story of Saint Marie Eugenie of Jesus, its foundress. It is also the story of the many other women who lived with her or who came after her. It is the story of people ablaze to extend the Kingdom of Christ. Explaining the Congregation to the Archbishop of Paris in 1841, Marie Eugenie had written that it is “fire, passion and ardent love for the Church and this society so far away from God that has given birth to this work.”
From Paris, other foundations followed and by Marie Eugenie’s death in 1898, the Congregation was established in four European countries, in Nicaragua in Central America, and in the Philippines in Asia: a total of 28 communitites.
Today, the 1,300 sisters of the Congregation spread in 35 countries all over the world can echo the words of St. Marie Eugenie of Jesus in 18184 with even more reason and conviction:”Looking back to those first days and seeing all that Our Lord has done for us, I was struck by one thought that I would like to share with you. It is that in our work ~ ALL COMES FROM JESUS CHRIST, ALL BELONGS TO JESUS CHRIST, ALL UST BE FOR JESUS CHRIST.”
In the Philippines and Thailand
The Assumption sisters first came to the Philippines in 1892 at the request of the Queen Regent then, Maria Cristina of Spain, whose fondness for the Assumption in Madrid prompted her to request that the Assumption assume the direction of the Escuela Normal Superior de Maestras in Manila.
Being one of the last Foundations in her lifetime, Mother Marie Eugenie of Jesus saw the immense possibilities for good in this distant mission and readily consented for the Assumption to come to the Philippines.
The first group of sisters arrived in December 1892 with Mother Marie du Perpetuel Secours as Superior on board the steamer Isla de Panay.
By May the following year, a second group of sisters arrived. On the 2nd of July 1893, in a rented three-story building, at #3 Anda Street, in Intramuros, the Superior Normal School for Women Teachers opened with an enrollment of approximately 100 students.
With the steady increase of enrollees, a larger building soon became a necessity. In 1894, the site of the Convent of the Assumption on Herran and Dakota Streets in what was then the Malate district was purchased by the Congregation. Here the Sisters also took up residence, this time in their own Convent. Here they also opened a Boarding School. In the Philippines, the Assumption had to make a clear distinction between the Normal School which was an institution of the State administered by the Assumption Sisters and the Boarding School which was the Congregation’s own as envisioned from its early days in Paris. With the historical turn of events and the end of Spain’s colonial rule over the Philippines, since the Superior Normal School was a Spanish institution, the School had to close in June of 1898 and the sisters returned to Spain. The contribution of this educational institution whose life was limited to five years and whose sphere of influence was limited to just a few students was nontheless pioneering particularly in the field of women education in the country.
It is noteworthy to say that when General Antonio Luna put out his revolutionary newspaper La Independencia, the only two women in the Editorial Staff which included such literary luminaries as Fernando Maria Guerrero, Epifanio de los Santos and Rafael Palma among others, were 2 graduates of the Normal School, Florentina Arellano and Rosa Sevilla.
The Sisters sought to instill in the minds and hearts of the students a deep love for the teaching profession and a keen sense of responsibility as molders of the young. In a series of conferences given by Sr.Maria de la Cruz, the Directress of the Normal School, to the students prior to the departure of the Sisters, she said: “Who knows whether this war that is fast assuming national proportions will change the political status of your country? If that shall happen, I shall be obliged to go.
…Yours is the primary task of forming the characters of the young girls so that the Filipino women of the next generation, imbued with a deep sense of nobility, may be fired with an enthusiasm for higher endeavors and a firm determination to carry through their lofty ideals for God and country…”
These words were carried out almost literally by the students of the Normal School. Even as the Sisters did eventually return to Spain in 1898.
By 1900, Rosa Sevilla already Rosa Sevilla Alvero, launched the Instituto de Mujeres, the first lay-administered Catholic School for women in the Philippines. Her first collaborators were her companions at the Normal School.
In the decades that followed, other former students of the Superior Normal School became foundresses, directresses and teachers. Among them were, Librada Avelino and Carmen de Luna, foundresses of the Centro Escolar University.
Spain served as the Assumption’s gateway to the East.
Thanks to the positive impact of the Superior Normal School, in 1904, the Apostolic Delegate to the Philippines approached Pope Pius X to request for the return of the Assumption Sisters. Mother Marie Celestine, who succeeded Mother Marie Eugenie as Superior General, agreed to send back some of the Sisters who were with the first foundation as well as other sisters. Among the young sisters that came this time was, Sr.Rosa Maria del’Enfant Jesus (Eleanore Pachoud) who was to become the First Provincial Superior when the Philippines became a Province of the Congregation.
From its early beginnings in 1892, today, Assumption in the Philippines has grown. In 1980, what used to be Assumption-Philippines became the Philippines-Thailand Province.
Today, there are 100 sisters present in 15 communities, 13 in the Philippines and 2 in Thailand. The Sisters, together with their lay partners remain committed to assuming the mission of education for the transformation of society.
One distinct honor for the Philippines-Thailand Province is the privilege it claims as the locus of the miracle that paved the way for Saint Marie Eugenie of Jesus’ canonization. Risa Bondoc, a 13 year old Filipina student of the Grade School of Assumption College is Marie Eugenie’s living miracle.